House debates

Thursday, 25 March 2021


Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021, Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021; Second Reading

11:24 am

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I was previously speaking about the completely laissez faire attitude of this government to many of the issues that concern me around health, around disability, around local infrastructure, around jobs and around education. In particular, I was speaking of the rapid increase in gap costs for high-level medical care that's occurring around Australia in areas such as interventional surgery, ophthalmology, ENT surgery and cardiology, where people are having to pay gap costs of several hundred dollars for consultations, including consultations with the cardiologist and neurologist, and, indeed, thousands of dollars above the schedule fee for things like cataract surgery and ENT surgery. The waiting list for cataract surgery in my electorate—and this is for people who are blind—is over two years; yet, if people are prepared to pay $4,000 above the schedule fee, they can have their cataracts done next week. It's a real disgrace. It means that we've got a two-tier health system, which the government has been quite happy to let develop over the last decade.

We know that life expectancy is markedly different depending on where you live. It's health care by postcode, where outer metropolitan, rural and regional people live 10 or even 15 years less than those who live in the inner cities. There are many reasons for that, but partly it's the development of the two-tier healthcare system, which I think is an absolute tragedy. Australia has had the best public health system in the world, and part of the reason we've done so well during the COVID pandemic compared to many other countries is our public health system. Yet, the government has been prepared to let it gradually deteriorate. It's a great tragedy. We must maintain our universal healthcare insurance scheme—Medicare—so that it is fit for purpose for the 21st century. I will be working as hard as I can in this House to make sure that Medicare is strengthened.

The other issue that has been a real tragedy is the lack of any concept from this government of the importance of data in modern health care. In 2016 the government sold off our cervical cancer and breast cancer register to Telstra Health, which was a great tragedy. I will be working as hard as I can to make sure that people are aware of what a problem this will be in 21st century medicine. The government's pathetic attempts to roll out electronic healthcare records is another case in point. We need to invest in data and data collection, because this is the future of health care. This government have failed at every level, and they've failed because they philosophically don't understand the importance of universal health care and the importance of data in this digital age. It is a tragedy that must be reversed if we are going to keep our healthcare system the best in the world. I really wish the government, instead of patting themselves on the back all the time with their piecemeal health announcements, would develop a philosophy that understands universal health care and the importance for our economy of having health for all Australians and health equality for all Australians.

Whilst we describe the NDIS as bipartisan, the government does not understand the importance of the NDIS for in particular people who are very disadvantaged. They constantly put roadblocks in the way. They constantly develop add-ons to the system that restrict people's ability to access the NDIS: in particular, the private assessors that the government is insisting on now—again, just another layer of bureaucracy, where someone who has very little idea is made to assess people with, sometimes, the most complex medical problems and illnesses, and it just slows the system down and adds another area of complexity to the bureaucracy and denies people adequate care. I deal with some of the most complex genetic disorders that we see in childhood, and many of those people are really struggling to access the NDIS like they should, because of this government's poor concept and understanding of the NDIS.

We have seen also, in terms of infrastructure, how this government has failed to understand the importance of major infrastructure projects in all electorates. They fund their own Liberal electorates but they don't fund the most important infrastructure in electorates like mine, which are Labor voting electorates. We've seen this with the Western Sydney airport rail line: they've committed to the northern part of that rail line, for which no adequate business case has ever been made, and this is in the words of Infrastructure Australia; yet the most rapidly developing areas, to the south of the airport, in my electorate of Macarthur, will not be getting the public transport link—the rail line—even though a very strong business case can and has been made for that link. So they're denying people in the rapidly growing areas—many thousands of people—adequate transport links to Western Sydney airport and, indeed, to the rest of Sydney.

Those opposite just have failed to understand, in any underlying philosophy, the importance of this: that they are there to govern for all Australians, not just their mates. We've seen the rorts that have happened with the land releases around Western Sydney airport, we've seen the sports rorts and the infrastructure rorts, we've seen the council grant rorts—we've seen a whole range of rorts from the Liberal governments, without any underlying concept of the importance of governing for all Australians.

In housing, we've seen people on even moderate incomes excluded from getting into the housing market, because of the government's poor understanding of the need for social and affordable housing. We've seen wealthy Australians flocking to auctions and buying property after property; yet, at the same time, we're seeing young working families not being able to provide a roof over their own heads. Companies are recording record profits—many of them, being paid JobKeeper, in spite of profits at record levels—and refusing to pay back their JobKeeper allowances. We're a rich country but we're not an equitable one, and this government is making it worse. We can do so much better.

Prior to the pandemic, our economy was lagging, wages growth was stagnant and people were struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living. As I say, my good friend the member for Rankin remarked in an address at the National Press Club that we shouldn't want to get back to the standard we had before the pandemic; we want a better standard for all. Those opposite have demonstrated, through their handling of the crisis, that they have no interest in an equitable society. The coalition is content with the increasing gap between the rich and the poor. They're content with billionaires pocketing taxpayers' money whilst hardworking mums and dads and local businesses are left wanting.

In my electorate, the end of the JobKeeper allowance is going to be an absolute tragedy for many of the small businesses in my electorate, and many of them have contacted me saying they will not be able to continue on without some form of support. These are people in the entertainment industry, people in the hospitality industry, people in tourism—in the many small businesses that are the lifeblood of my electorate.

The government, through all of their economic prowess—so they say—are still amassing trillions of dollars of debt, and Australians are asking why the rich companies and rich people are doing well but they are struggling. Macarthur residents are not seeing any tangible improvements in their standard of living, and the fear is that the massive debt that the government have accrued they and their children will pay off for generations. People in my electorate are doing it tough, and, with all of this government debt and the mismanagement, I believe, of taxpayer funds, Macarthur residents know that the coalition government are not in their corner.

There's a lot of spin in what the government say. With respect to health, they like to announce new drugs are being released. They forget that the PBS is bipartisan; it doesn't have a political aspect. Those releases would happen no matter what government was in power. Healthcare costs are spiralling out of control. Housing costs are spiralling out of control. People have to pay so much for transport through increasing tolls on roads and increasing public transport costs. What do the government do? They want to bring in a restrictive industrial relations framework. Thankfully, they didn't get most of what they wanted through, because that would have put even more pressure on working families, but that is the philosophy of the government: punish the poor and let the wealthy proceed on their course. A leopard doesn't change its spots. This government is getting more and more conservative as time goes on. We have a coalition government that is gearing up to put industrial relations pressure on working people and let the wealthy do what they want.

Everyday working people are really struggling in spite of record company profits. With the dividend imputation system the way it is, many wealthy people are profiting, yet working-class families barely have enough to put a roof over their head and food on the table. Those opposite come into this place and talk about our 'recovery' and our 'comeback', but for many people their quality of life will not improve unless something drastic is done to help them, not the wealthy. It's not a recovery if you're robbing entire communities of economic opportunity and jobs; if you're pork-barrelling money into projects that have no business case and are of no benefit to the average person. Unfortunately, those opposite, whilst they are ideologically divided, have demonstrated their true nature in what they want to do with industrial relations and what they want to do with health care and education—what they want to do with taxpayers' money. We know that those without stable work have been less able to get work. We know that those who are working multiple jobs feel increasing pressure. We know that many young families struggle to put a roof over their head. These bills, Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2020-2021 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2020-2021, are all spin and no substance. There's no adequate philosophy in this government. I thank the House.


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